If you have found yourself standing in a warm shower as tears stream down your face, you are not alone. It is no secret that living with a rare disease like pulmonary hypertension affects one’s mental health. Although I have touched on this topic before, I want to devote this week’s column to mental health awareness.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. One reason this is important is that too often, mental health has a stigma around it. Until recently, those of us with mental illnesses were treated with shame and not taken seriously. I know that when I was growing up, I never heard anyone talk about anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Anxiety is no fun
Because I have had PH for 15 years, I have many PHriends who have multiple mental illnesses related to PH and coexisting conditions. I am grateful, or so I thought, that I mostly struggle only with anxiety. It’s not that having anxiety is fun, but when compared with what others go through, it could be worse.
For me, anxiety may occur when I am experiencing a “bad PH day” and am struggling to breathe. I can’t seem to catch my breath. Chest pain or tightness begins, and it becomes a vicious cycle. It’s incredibly frightening when I feel like I can’t get another breath in.
Last year, I started seeing a therapist. I believed at the time that she would tell me I didn’t need therapy, but she told me the opposite. During our sessions, she explains that I am coping with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I was shocked about this and initially disagreed with her, but have since come around to understanding her viewpoint.
PTSD is not only for soldiers
Her explaining how my many hospitalizations would be considered traumatic experiences prompted several thought-provoking questions. As we continue to revisit these difficult events to the best of my memory, I now understand that they were traumatic for me. I used to think of PTSD in the context of soldiers returning home after a war. But as my therapist explains the broad context of PTSD, I understand now that I struggle with it.
Because of PTSD, when I am heading to an appointment at my PH clinic, which is located across the street from the hospital where my trauma occurred, my heart starts racing and I can feel up to my ears. My palms become clammy. If you ask my husband, he’ll probably say that I become” feisty.” But now I understand why going there increases my anxiety.
Let’s talk about it
Learning to talk about my emotions and not shutting them off is helpful. I continue to attend therapy, although virtually at this time. I’ve found music therapy to be cathartic. Breathing exercises, meditation, and adapted yoga also can be beneficial.
What about you? What coping mechanisms have you found helpful?
As we spread awareness this month about mental health, remember that you are not alone. Dealing with a mental illness is nothing to feel ashamed about. Talking about our struggles with mental health will help others open up, too.
This pandemic has prompted an increased awareness about our mental health. If you need help, reach out to someone. If a loved one suffers from mental health issues, listen to them and take them seriously.
For more information about promoting mental health, visit the organization Mental Health America. Another resource I’ve found valuable is the National Alliance of Mental Illness, which promotes awareness and education throughout the year.
Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.
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